A workshop in Fiji last month to explore ways to develop the South Pacific’s fishing industry was interrupted by a staggering object lesson: the devastation of Vanuatu by Super Cyclone Pam.
For workshop participants, who came from Tuvalu, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the crushing impact of Pam underlined the need for resilience against the interrelated impacts of climate change, poverty and diminishing natural resources. Participants from Vanuatu, unable to return home, anxiously watched news reports.
The super cyclone flattened 90 percent of the buildings in Vanuatu’s capital of Port Vila, destroyed water, electric and communication infrastructure and ripped out crops. The offshore reef may take decades to recover its ecological and economic vitality. Boats and seafood processing facilities were swept out to sea with the storm.
Smart business practices alone are no protection from monster storms, but halting the degradation of marine ecosystems is key to resilience and recovery. Product, management and business innovation can help make the ocean a renewable resource and support local economic development. Resiliency can also mean new feedstock for aquaculture, technology that can trace fish from boat to plate, and support for indigenous fishery management, such as the Maori-owned Aotearoa Fisheries Limited in New Zealand.
Monica Jain, who ran the series of business workshops for Pacific Island fishers, understands that seafood’s global supply chain means that market-based efforts to move the seafood industry toward a sustainable model need to be global as well. Jain is the founder of the business competition Fish 2.0, which seeks to create the business growth needed to drive social and environmental change in the seafood supply chain. After running a successful competition for mostly U.S.-based seafood businesses in 2013, Fish 2.0 this year is working hard to recruit participants from Asia and the Pacific Islands. (Applications period for this year’s competition close April 27th. For more information, go to www.fish20.org.)
“For years, investors have been telling us, ‘There just aren’t any worthwhile opportunities for private investment in seafood,’” Jain said. “That’s simply wrong. There’s a lot to get excited about.”
Connecting Isolated Communities
Fish live in remote places, and the fishermen and women who catch and process them are also isolated. At a second workshop last month, in Bangkok, Jain says most of the participants had never met one another even though they work in the same regional seafood industry and were all exploring ways to shift towards sustainable practices. Thailand’s fishing industry has been rocked by recent news stories about modern-day slaves forced into fishing
“Seafood businesses working in international markets are often isolated from one another and from market players (both small and large) in different parts of the world.” Jain says, “Fish 2.0 connects and develops community while building out the business model.”
New models are emerging. Last month, Fair Trade USA’s launched its first fair-trade seafood certification, for yellowfin tuna that is now available in some Safeway stores. The tuna is sourced from four associations representing 120 small-scale fishermen in the Indonesian Maluku island chain.
Businesses that enter Fish 2.0 compete for over $180,000 in prizes. The finalists earn an opportunity to present their business ideas to a broad range of investors and supply chain partners who are interested in seafood and can help their businesses grow. The competition is open to businesses in any stage of development, from early stage, pre-revenue ventures to later-stage businesses looking to grow. The competition team also works hard to facilitate connections for investors.
This year, Fish 2.0 is boosting networking opportunities in addition to cash rewards. The Open Door Prize will give a seafood entrepreneurs exclusive one-on-one days with a major industry players such as High Liner Foods, Fish Vet Group, IntraFish, FS6 and Wabel.
“Fish 2.0 goes to the heart of how we balance all these diverse fish interests, to ensure that fish stocks continue to help sustain ocean ecosystems and will be still populating our oceans to sustain us and sustain future generations,” Judith Cefkin, the U.S. ambassador to Fiji, said at the workshop. “We hope to shine a spotlight on the incredible creativity and motivation that exists throughout the Pacific Islands.”
Fish 2.0 is also working with the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance to connect Pacific Islanders abroad with development projects in their regions of origin. In the face of multiple challenges, such as the rising intensity and frequency of extreme weather like Super Cyclone Pam, resiliency is the key to the industry’s survival.
“You don’t have to be a sustainable company to enter Fish2.0,” Jain says. “but you probably will have to be sustainable to win.”